Ecclesiastical Institutions. Being Part VI of the "Principles of Sociology." By Herbert Spencer. Pp. 193. Price, $1.25.
The great life-work of Herbert Spencer, the "Philosophy of Evolution," advances toward completion, but it has moved slowly of late. Persistent ill-health and occupation with other subjects, and other parts of the system than that immediately in hand, have considerably delayed the appearance of the present volume.
Of the general nature of Spencer's "Synthetic Philosophy" little needs here to be said. Our readers are aware that it is a systematic attempt to explain the course of nature, the progress of life, the origin of man, and the institutions of human society, by one universal law of unfolding known as evolution. While in one aspect this system is simply a new organization of knowledge based upon the progress of science, and more comprehensive and unified than anything previously attained, in another aspect it is a new body of doctrine which discredits and replaces the most wide-spread and deeply cherished traditional beliefs of mankind. In the volume now before us Mr. Spencer has reached that stage in the development of his system in which he comes into the sharpest collision with all-prevalent religious dogma.
No discussion of the evolution of human society is possible which does not make the study of primitive social conditions and ideas prominent and fundamental. If the higher social forms were potentially involved in the lower, and had grown out of them by the working of natural laws, then the first and most important step of the investigation must be into the nature, capacities, and limitations of the primitive man, and the character of the primitive elements of society which grew out of, and were determined by, the attributes of the primitive man. Accordingly, the first part of the first volume of the "Principles of Sociology"—"The Data of Sociology"—is devoted to primitive man and that order of primary conceptions which was embodied in the earliest and rudest social institutions. These institutions are now so highly developed that we have got in a way of separating ourselves from "the heathen" by a great gulf, which makes all continuity of relations between the lowest and the highest impossible. But, if evolution be true, the highest is derived from the lowest by unbroken chains of causation, and there is no other possible way of explaining and understanding existing institutions than by tracing their derivation back to primitive germinal conditions. This is, at any rate, the only way open to science which is an exposition of the natural order; and sociology only becomes a true science as it is pursued by the method adopted by Mr. Spencer of working out the laws under which social progress has taken place. The data of sociology in the primitive conditions which initiated the lowest social state constitute, therefore, the essential basis of the science, and determine the whole course of subsequent elucidation.
In Part II Mr. Spencer works out "The Inductions of Sociology," or the nature, structure, and functions of the organism of society; and in Part III, "The Domestic Relations," be treats of the maintenance of species, the relations of the sexes in primitive society, and the development of the family.
Volume II of the "Principles of Sociology" begins with Part IV, on "Ceremonial Institutions," the evolution of which is traced from early to advanced societies. Part V takes up "Political Institutions," and these with their development by the same method. "Ecclesiastical Institutions" (Part VI), now published, as the title imports, treats of the evolution of existing religious organizations from their lower forms in primitive society. Its necessary implication, of course, is, that the religious, like all other social institutions, have a natural genesis, and can only be explained as derivations from pre-existing forms which carry us backward and downward to the religious notions, rites, and observances of the earliest men. The nature of the religious idea is first unfolded, and it is shown how religious ceremonies were at first mixed with others, so that medicine-man, ruler, and priest, were combined in the same individual. The rise of a separate priesthood and of religious hierarchies is then traced out, and the argument is pursued till we reach the modern forms of ecclesiastical institutions, "Church and State," "Nonconformity," and "The Moral Influences of Priesthoods." Two